Google’s Waymo self driving car company has sued Uber. The lawsuit alleges former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski secretly downloaded 14,000 files proprietary technical files before leaving to found self-driving truck startup Otto. Uber acquired Otto last summer and put Levandowski in charge of its self-driving efforts.
Wired describes the situation.
“From what we know in the complaint, this seems to be fairly straightforward,” says Shawn Thompson, a former FBI attorney and federal prosecutor who now advises companies on protecting against insider threats, like employee theft. “From a criminal perspective, I would be surprised if the FBI weren’t looking into this.”
Waymo is bringing this suit under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, a federal law that sailed through Congress last May as the largest expansion of the intellectual property regime in a half-century. Waymo also accuses Uber of patent infringement and violation of the California Uniform Trade Secret Act.
Although the law is designed to punish foreign secret stealers, it has three big implications that should worry Uber. First, it allows plaintiffs to ask the court for an immediate, temporary injunction, giving Waymo the power to shut down Uber’s self-driving truck and car experiments until this is sorted. Second, it lets the accuser seek permanent injunctive relief—complicated legalese for forcing Uber to halt any part of autonomous program dealing with the allegedly swiped lidar. Third, the plaintiff can seize the products of its trade secrets, even before the case is decided. In other words, Google could use this legislation to not only temporarily halt Uber’s progress, but take away its toys.
The final number settlement could range from a few million to billions of dollars. It all hinges on whether Waymo can prove that Uber acquired Otto solely for its valuable lidar secrets (and that those secrets were stolen).
Waymo could refer the case to the FBI, triggering a major federal investigation of trade secret theft and economic espionage.
Maybe prison time for Levandowski: Stealing trade secrets carries up to 10 years. If other former Google employees were involved in the plan, as Waymo alleges in its complaint, they could get dragged into conspiracy charges.
If Uber executives knew what Levandowski allegedly had when they acquired Otto—or if they went as far as to direct him to download those files from Waymo—they could end up serving time, too.
SOURCE – Wired